Think of all the moments that make up your life. Maybe yours has been one filled with adventure or is an inspiring tale of overcoming adversity. Perhaps you simply wish to preserve your history for your family. But the idea of writing it all down can be daunting. The good news is you don’t have to do it alone. There are some talented local professionals available to help.
First, let’s talk terminology. Many people use the words memoir and autobiography interchangeably. But in the publishing world, a memoir typically focuses on a particular time or aspect of a person’s life, while autobiographies are a record of that person’s life from birth to present day. However, this distinction is only relevant if you are hoping to sell your story commercially. What is most important is to identify your goals and the correct resource for you. If you have already written (or plan to write) your own story for publication, you’ll need an editor with publishing experience to help you focus and refine your efforts. If you don’t want to write it yourself, you need a ghostwriter. If you’re solely interested in preserving the story of your life for your loved ones, you want a memoirist or raconteur.
The Memory Palace
“With a personal memoir, the individual is able to tell their story in a very authentic and natural way,” offers Olivia Spallino Savoie, a raconteur based in The Villages.
“I arrive with a set of questions. They serve as a guide, beginning with prompts regarding childhood and adolescence and progressing to the present.”
Once Savoie has completed her interview sessions, she uses that material to compose the story. Her goal is to preserve the subject’s voice and memories without any embellishment. It generally takes her a month or two to complete the manuscript, which can range in length from 5,000 to 50,000 words. She is also able to incorporate 50 to 100 photos in the final book.
“We construct tribute books to celebrate lives and cement legacies by interviewing family and friends and compiling photographs, letters and other documents,” she explains. “By preserving all of that, you have something that will inform and inspire present and future generations.”
To learn more about Olivia’s services, visit raconteurwriting.com.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
If your goal is to sell your story, you likely need an experienced editor to assess your manuscript and help you get it into the best shape possible before you submit it to literary agents or go the route of self-publishing.
Belea T. Keeney is an Ocala-based editor who works with writers in various ways, from editorial evaluation to developmental editing. She has edited such notable books as For the Record by musician Don Tolle and the award-winning memoir Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda by Kenna P. Marriott.
Keeney begins her process by giving her clients a sample edit to provide them with a sense of how much time and effort a project will take.
“Memoirs for publication are quite different than ones solely for people who already know the writer,” Keeney offers. “They involve much more scene-setting, backstories and detail to show the reader the action and drama. Most of my clients come to me with at least some material already written. I’ll do an evaluation of the manuscript, offer suggestions, comments and queries to help the writer shape the rest. Some just have an outline, and I help them decide what to include, what to add and how to write their story effectively.”
Visit beleatkeeney.com for more information.
The Sky is Not the Limit
Let’s say you believe your story has the potential to be published, but you need someone else to write the manuscript. That’s where ghostwriters like Patricia Charpentier come in.
This celebrated author of the award-winning book Eating an Elephant: Write Your Life One Bite at a Time has helped hundreds of people write and publish their stories over the past 20 years. She has also worked with a number of individuals with Alzheimer’s.
“I work with a lot of people with memory loss. I get as much as I possibly can,” she offers. “They’re usually very clear about what happened a long time ago. It’s what happened 10 minutes ago that they have trouble with.”
In addition to ghostwriting, Charpentier offers editing services, coaching and classes.
To learn more about her book and services, visit writingyourlife.org.
The Glass Castle
A few years back, writer Amy Mangan penned a column for the Ocala Star Banner called Writing a Story Worth Telling. She explained that most people defeat themselves before they even start, by offering up a litany of excuses.
“Not enough time. No talent. Few skills. Bad lighting. Bad computer. Bad third day of the sixth month of the year,” she mused. “Excuses, really. I recognize them all. I’ve made these arguments, too. Lack of coffee also has been one of my reasons. But empathy and caffeine-deficiency aside, my response to them (and me) is this: Stop whining and start writing.”
At the time, Mangan was at work on a memoir. Her journey past her own self-defeating excuses was fueled by the inspiration she drew from her father Sherman Yeary, who at the age of 67 wrote his first book, The Story Pole, a memoir about growing up in a small town.
“He didn’t have an agent or a book contract,” she explained. “He self-published four non-fiction works, all centered on his life, family, friends and his beloved community of Ocala, Florida.”
Mangan recently published her memoir entitled This Side Up: The Road to a Renovated Life. After devoting a decade of her career to writing about picture-perfect homes and gardens for such magazines as Better Homes & Gardens and Southern Living, this first-time author bravely pulled back the curtain on her own less-than-perfect life. In it she reveals how financial, health and marital struggles threatened her very existence and how she found the strength to face down adversity and redefine what it means to be happy amid overwhelming circumstances.
“A crisis can make you feel isolated, let alone experiencing several at once,” shares Mangan. “I want people to know they’re not alone, they will survive, that there is no shame in your life falling apart.”
How did she stay focused until she had the very best manuscript she could create?
“I made it a priority. I got up at five every morning and wrote for two hours. I didn’t stop until I had completed at least a thousand words,” she recalls. “I also did not self-edit. That first draft… you just have to write it. On weekends I would proof and edit drafts.”
Mangan advises that writers also need to fully understand their reasons behind telling their story. She cautions that if the goal is based mainly on being published, it’s time to reexamine your motivations.
“I was fortunate to get the book published, but my goal was first to write this story as a tribute to my family and also the friends and loved ones that carried us through some very difficult times,” she reveals. “Secondly, I wanted to give hope and courage to others. That’s the best reason to write a memoir. There is real power in sharing your truth.”
To learn more about Amy Mangan and her memoir, visit amymangan.com
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Although all memoirs are personal, some require the writer to revisit their darkest days and reveal details that others might prefer stay hidden. Often these books offer readers a lifeline and a road map to help them navigate their way out of similar situations.
Mickie Zada recently released Looking Behind Closed Doors: Domestic Abuse: If We Don’t Change, Nothing Changes. Part memoir and part personal growth guide for those who have been victims of abuse, Zada draws from her 34 years as a victim of domestic abuse and offers insightful perspectives and strategies.
“Like most memoir writers, I worried that I’d be judged,” Zada reveals. “I was concerned that telling my story of domestic abuse would shed a negative light on who I am. One day, I decided that other people’s opinions of me were none of my business.”
Zada confesses that even after that epiphany, she still needed a nudge to move forward.
“It was still difficult for me to come to terms with writing about my domestic abuse,” she recalls. “When I was on the cusp of making the decision to speak and write my truth, I sought advice from a former counselor. He congratulated me on my intention to write a book and told me that as long as I don’t tell my story, I’m still being controlled and abused…still protecting my abuser. Wow! That was an eye-opener. That being said, one of my sisters is livid that I am truthful about domestic abuse. I do my best not to be in-your-face with my experience, but I chose to be honest, specific and direct. Hopefully, as more people talk about domestic abuse it will be brought out of the shadows. My sister will either get over it, or not.”
Even while dealing with such serious subject matter, Zada kept her book upbeat and accessible.
“I chose to use a sense of humor and write from my heart energy,” she explains. “By writing as if I’m sitting down at the table, talking with my readers, the words took on a less traumatic tone. Let go of the fear of other people’s response to your memoir. Start at the beginning, and let it flow!”
Visit survivingabusenetwork.com to learn more about Zada’s book and other projects.